Guardian of the flock

Yes, actually, Patricia Curzon-Strome did have a tendency to bring stray animals home as a little girl. It’s a habit she has never outgrown.

Patricia Curzon-Strome and her son

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE — Yes, actually, Patricia Curzon-Strome did have a tendency to bring stray animals home as a little girl. It’s a habit she has never outgrown.

The lawns and gardens of her farm teem with two- and four-legged friends, including the ever-present Miss Purdy, a Vietnamese potbellied pig that Curzon-Strome says is the smartest critter on the place.

Short and chubby with extraordinarily long eyelashes, Miss Purdy is a walking bird feeder, she said.

The little pig grunts happily as she grubs around under the feeders put out for visiting songbirds, catching seeds on her back as they fall from above. Then, while Miss Purdy is snuffling around in the yard, the wild birds land on her back and snack on the seeds caught in her coarse, black hair.

Curzon-Strome knows it’s time to get ready for cold weather when Miss Purdy starts stuffing weeds and grasses into her den ­— a small doghouse.

Operator of a farm-based feed store along with her small herd of beef cattle, Curzon-Strome has spun her love of practically everything that has either fur or feathers into what she calls the Hi’A Wa Tsi Game Bird Farm.

She named the farm after the Cree word for watcher, a term her father Bob Curzon had always liked.

Using breeding stock in species ranging from fierce little Chukar partridges to fast-growing meat chickens that are ready to eat in eight weeks, Hi’A Wa Tsi provides living stock for all kinds of people who want all kinds of birds for all kinds of reasons.

“The game birds mostly are (for) either people wanting to raise and release or people with dogs or people wanting to release to hunt or for people to eat,” said Curzon-Strome, who hyphenated her last name three years ago when she and Richard Strome were married.

Dog trainers buy some of her stock — they especially like the combative nature of the Chukar partridges — for teaching hunting dogs to flush birds.

Until the recent economic slump, a number people who had moved onto new acreages were coming out to buy yard pets. They’d want a pair of this and a pair of that. They would quickly learn that each species and each of the breeds within those species has its own set of needs, and that ducks and peacocks don’t necessarily mix, unless they have been raised together.

She is firm on one thing. No birds are killed on her property. People have asked in the past if she would butcher the birds for them or if they could use her facilities.

Sorry, she tells them.

Curzon-Strome learned everything from scratch, as she developed her flocks and grew her operation.

Raised in the Yukon, she moved south in 1991 to a rented spot at Poplar Ridge, just west of Red Deer. She had always wanted a farm and was tired of the Yukon’s excessive winters.

Her parents and brother moved down a year later, purchasing a quarter section of land with two homes on Taimi Road, a few kilometres north of Rocky Mountain House.

Curzon-Strome was more than happy to join them there.

Almost instantly, she started filling the place with animals, including some pygmy goats she brought with her from Poplar Ridge.

Her small feed store, a Masterfeeds dealership, was set up to help resolve supply issues for the different needs of her various animals and birds. North Taimi Feeds earns enough profit to keep all the animals fed, including the cattle, cats and dogs, she said.

She gets plenty of help from her 13-year-old son Benjamin, who is the family’s chicken specialist. There would be fewer chickens on the place if Benjamin didn’t like them so much, said Curzon-Strome.

Excluding a pair of Muskovy ducks and their brood, which have the run of the yard, all of her breeding stock is kept in open pens covered by netting to keep wild birds out.

People worry about farm birds spreading avian flu, she said. The reality is that wild birds are much more likely to carry the disease, so it’s important to keep them out.

She must also be vigilant in protecting her birds from cougars, coyotes and other wild predators. They haven’t been a problem so far, but Curzon-Strome knows of about six cougars that roam the bush around her farm.

While the birds are bringing in more income than the cattle now, the whole operation is supported by off-farm jobs. Curzon-Strome drives bus during the school year while Richard works as a power linesman for Fortis.

With Bob Curzon’s death last November, her mother has moved back to the Yukon and their house is now rented out.

At the end of each day, Curzon-Strome finds herself living the life she dreamed of as a young girl, shepherding flocks of birds, cats, dogs, cattle and whatever other homeless critters find their way to her door.

“They’re such wonderful creatures. I couldn’t imagine people that don’t have pets. Let me put it this way: I’m never alone.”

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